X2 Mega Player 521
There's no shortage of fitness-appropriate MP3 players out there, largely because any decently constructed flash player is suitable for a workout. However, certain devices go above and beyond to be considered gymworthy (see the if you want clarification). X2's Mega Player 521, available in 256MB ($139), 512MB ($179), and 1GB ($229) capacities, also falls squarely into this category. This splashproof player has a stopwatch, a pedometer, and a calorie counter onboard, and it includes a sporty case, two different-size armbands, and fitness-friendly over-the-ear headphones with foam cover replacements. Unfortunately, the Mega Player 521's dodgy joystick and confusing user interface spoil the fun, but patient exercisers who want a music player with plenty of extras should still consider it.
Encased in sturdy, water-resistant rubber, the X2 Mega Player 521 is egglike in shape with a rubber loop built in to the smaller end. A black OLED with bright blue text takes center stage and is flanked on the right by the five-way joystick, a play/pause/power button, and an FM/A-B loop key. Around the edge lie the hold switch and the record button. The headphone jack and the covered USB port sit along the top edge. The player measures 3.0 by 2.0 by 0.5 inches and weighs just 1.6 ounces.
In addition to the MP3 player and the aforementioned accessories, this Taiwan-based company includes a USB cable, a power plug with a snap-on adapter for U.S. outlets, and a CD-ROM. On this disc, you'll find the device driver, a user manual, and an app called Screen Editor, which allows you to create screensavers for the Mega Player 521. Transfers are handled via drag and drop in Windows Explorer. You can drag individual songs to the device or to artist or album folders. These folders are then represented in a menu labeled Playlist on the player. If you want to play just one artist or album, you have to go into this menu and uncheck the boxes for any other folder. However, if you drag individual songs to the Music folder that lives on the player, you have no choice but to play these files. This is a bit frustrating and definitely confusing; at first, we thought you couldn't even drag folders onto the device since we didn't think to look under Playlist. In addition, the main control--the joystick--doesn't always navigate accurately. It would frequently scroll up, down, left, or right when we were simply trying to click to select.
The Mega Player excels most in the features department. It has an FM tuner/recorder with good reception as well as a built-in mic for voice recordings. You can set the record rate at Standard, Better, or Best. The player also includes the SRS surround-sound effect, though activating this disables the EQ settings (Normal, Rock, Jazz, Classical, and Pop). Playback settings include Normal, Repeat One, Repeat All, Shuffle, and Shuffle Repeat. But the real stand-out features are the fitness tools. There's a stopwatch and a pedometer; for the latter, you can input your weight and stride, and your calorie count will also show up when you activate the pedometer. You can even save your times and step/calorie counts (10 memory slots for each), though X2 doesn't include any software for tracking your progress.
The X2 Mega Player produced surprising test results. Not only did file transfers come through in at a speedy 2.1MB per second, but the battery lasted more than 18 hours in CNET Labs' tests--quite good for a flash player with a rechargeable battery. Sound quality was OK overall. The included headphones don't sit flush with the ear, so they may not be loud enough for users in some environments. Also, with these 'phones, if you turn the sound all the way up, people next to you will most certainly be able to hear your music in detail--not the most desirable trait. However, subbing in another set (such as our Shure E4C headphones) fixes this problem, and the volume got plenty loud with these earbuds in place. In general, we found tunes to be a bit too bright and lacking in warmth, though bass response and clarity were good, and there was little, if any, background hiss. The Jazz and Classical EQ settings did a decent job at reducing harshness.